Instead of a traditional business plan, Holstee cofounders and brothers Dave and Mike Radparvar, along with friend Fabian, created a manifesto, a typographical "reminder of what a successful life could be in non-financial terms." And then they went about the business of making their first products, T-shirts made from recycled bottles, and a wallet made from plastic bags collected off the streets of Delhi.
On a bit of a whim, so the story goes, Holstee put the manifesto up on their website to share the mission of the company with customers. The founder’s feel-good maxims about life and the pursuit of personal happiness spread across the Web, appearing on blogs, across social media and of course, causing a repin/reblog frenzy on Pinterest and Tumblr. They quickly sold out of their first run of products as well as a poster of the manifesto, which accounted for about 50 percent of revenue in 2011. Today, you can purchase the Holstee Manifesto, on recycled paper, as a poster or greeting card. According to Mike, "80 million+ views later [the Holstee Manifesto] has transcended borders, religions, political views and cultural divides. The Holstee community alone has posted over 14 translations." The manifesto, pardon the cliché, went viral.
This, in and of itself, is a remarkable story about the power of branded content to drive brand awareness, affinity and sure, sales. But the story doesn’t end there. The manifesto acted as a sort of permission slip for individuals to live more fully, and people throughout the world were inspired enough by its words to change direction, to make different decisions. And the stories began to pour in. Now, in a brilliant campaign extension, Holstee has invited those impacted by the manifesto to share their stories with one another through My Life, a Tumblr-hosted platform that allows those touched by the manifesto to share their stories via a combination of text, image and video. From manifesto to movement—I’d give these guys an award for taking a single piece of authentic, remarkable content and evolving social-share into a brand-allegiant community.
Successful branded content must balance brand awareness and education with entertainment and timeliness. One of the ways to do this is to jump on an existing trend, the way that mala jewelry company Tiny Devotions did with its Holstee-inspired "Boho Manifesto," available when you sign up for email. Or, how casual footwear brand Sanuk and luxury fashion brand Oscar de la Renta did with their completely different, yet perfectly on-brand individual takes on the "Shit Girls Say" meme.
Fashion brands often get a bad rap for being a bit behind the curve when it comes to digital marketing, but brands in all sorts of verticals have something to learn from their strategies.
Co-create Campaigns With Customers
Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff is at the center of content-driven commerce that mimics the brand’s eye for style. Its engine is a website called Minkette driven by a group of bloggers and loyalists referred to as the "Minkettes." The designer’s long list of digital integration includes Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Polyvore, LookBook, Chicotpia, MYFDB and Instagram, where one lucky fan’s photos were chosen to appear in Minkoff’s first print ad campaign.
Repurpose Existing Content
Independent fashion bloggers (IFB) is a daily read for aspiring and established bloggers alike, and its biannual fashion week conference always sells out, attracting sponsorships from big brands eager to be a part of the conversation and connect with rising influencers. Much more than just a blog, IFB is a resource center, and uses image-share platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to drive traffic, community growth and brand awareness, snapping pictures of press coverage to share on Instagram and posting intriguing headlines of blog articles to images on Pinterest.
Invest in Influencers
When it came time for J.Crew to do something different with their digital presence and promote their global launch into more than 100 countries, they turned to iconic street style photographers and fashion bloggers Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist) and Garance Doré to carry their vision for Hello, World! forward, photographing, filming and narrating an international tour. The duo met up with other tastemakers in each city and the result is a content feast of images, video and quotes like, "if I could only wear one color it would be neon pink," from Hilary Tsui in Hong Kong. The feature also includes an invitation for customers outside of North America to become J.Crew Insiders and receive VIP member benefits including complimentary expedited shipping through the end of the year, priority access to J.Crew’s team of International personal shoppers as well as duty free shopping through August 31st.
Lead with Lifestyle
According to Tory Burch’s CMO, the fashion designer has "not bought traditional advertisements in U.S. magazines," relying instead on an aggressive digital-first strategy that generates more revenue than any physical store. Reasons why? Tory Burch is perhaps the only fashion brand to have an editor-in-chief position within the company, and the Tory blog is a great example of exploring brand lifestyle. In the spirit of summer (and resort wear) she’s currently featuring content about vacation musts, surf culture, and the color blue.
Uncover Unique Partnerships
A beautiful marriage exists between the creators of Wildfox Couture and young adult author Francesca Lia Block. At the epicenter is Magicalcreature.com, a blog that tells a story of friendship and hope between three girls. Together, the designers and author have illustrated a collection of dreamy T-shirts based on these characters. The emotional attachment gleaned from Lia Block’s words connects beautifully with the gorgeous images on the shirts.
Engage Through Experience
In March 2012, when most brands were still on the fence about joining Pinterest, Calypso St. Barth tapped mega-pinner Christine Martinez, a fashion blogger who was, at the time, the fourth most-followed Pinterest user in the world, to act as both brand ambassador and pinner on an actual trip to St. Barth. According to coverage in Mashable, the brand wanted to "piggy[back] on Martinez’s success on the social network to attract more attention to its boards and website." Did it work? Currently, the luxury brand has more than 6,000 followers.
Educate and Entertain
Capitalizing on the nail-polish trend as well as its 15th anniversary working directly with designers at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Red Door client Creative Nail Design (CND) created "The History of Nails at Fashion Week," an infographic that combined facts about fashion week with CND’s own history and evolution, including the revolutionary product release of Shellac. While infographics are widely used in many verticals, fashion and beauty brands have been less likely to produce and promote information in this way. As a result, the content piece was a valuable resource for journalists and bloggers alike as they competed for views during fashion-week coverage. By posting the Infographic to their fashion week blog and Pinterest, CND was also able to educate customers about the CND’s leadership position, and connect CND more closely with their Shellac product.
We’re all a bit curious about what other people are buying online. Net-A-Porter makes full use of this through a real-time feed that relays what other stylish women around the world are adding to their shopping bags and sharing with friends. Quite mobile, with an app for iPhone and Android to access luxury fashion on the go, fans can also read the weekly Net-A-Porter e-magazine on their iPad which includes everything from how to wear a particular trend to intimate Q&A’s with leading designers. Best of all, Net-A-Porter makes it easy to get a quick snapshot of all of its digital efforts on The Social Hub (live Twitter feed, Photo diary, Facebook, YouTube, Google alerts).
The Digital Naturalist is a forum for video, film, and multimedia aimed at analyzing what makes digital storytelling successful in order to establish helpful guidelines for advocacy groups. Solicited causes, such as Charity: Water, have recently gone under the microscope dissecting the elements that make their content succeed or fail. Digital Naturalist founder Amy Marquis said, "If more good people behind these good causes could learn to meet the most basic criteria of good digital storytelling, their work might actually start to turn heads." Whether you’re into social advocacy or not, these tips can teach any company how to tell a good tale.
This is the kind of content that inspires me. Who makes your "favorites" list?
Crosby Noricks is Director of Social Media at Red Door Interactive, Founder of PR Couture and author of Ready to Launch, available on Amazon. With offices in San Diego, Carlsbad and Denver, Red Door Interactive, Inc. is a strategic partner dedicated to ensuring businesses acquire, convert, retain and engage their customers wherever they are. The firm holds more than a decade of expertise in successfully developing and executing communications initiatives across all touch points to deliver real, measurable results. Clients include Cricket Communications, CND (Shellac), Smith+Noble, Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc. and Charlotte Russe. Crosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PR_Couture.
[Image: Flickr user Michael Mandiberg]